Rex Chapman remains one of the more important basketball recruits the University of Kentucky has reeled in.
The high-flying, sharpshooting McDonalds All-American from Owensboro, KY had a legendary prep career and was a guaranteed program-changer. And due to the implications his commitment would create, Kentucky and Louisville turned the Commonwealth into a recruiting battleground.
In 1986, UK and UofL were both at crucial points for their respective futures. Louisville finished the 1985-86 season with its second NCAA Championship and looked to keep the momentum going. The same year, Kentucky would accrue a 32-4 record, but suffered a premature exit in the Elite 8.
Kentucky needed a way to get back ahead of Louisville and restore order in the state. Both schools figured a commitment from Rex Chapman would provide stability, along with an in-state recruiting edge and the distinction as Kentucky’s premier team. Ultimately, Rex chose to join Eddie Sutton and the Kentucky Wildcats.
As if the UK-UofL rivalry wasn’t intense enough already, Rex’s involvement magnified it. On December 27, 1986 the Wildcats traveled westward to Louisville. Rex stole the show with a 26 point/4 assist spectacle, as UK put an 85-51 hurting on the Cards. This 34 point margin remains the most lopsided finish in the rivalry’s history. Extra painful was that it came at the hands of a freshman who grew up a Cards fan.
Rex annihilated Louisville with the entire cupboard of skills- isolation, mid-range, NBA range, driving, pinpoint passing, transition, everything (Also included: Rex highlights from later games):
Chapman made five threes in this game, a total that no Kentucky player (other than Rex himself) would surpass until 1991. Also against Louisville- a dunk on future UK assistant Kenny Payne deserves a spot of its own:
Let’s also keep in mind: it was only his seventh college game.
Unfortunately, this game was a high point for Kentucky’s 1986-87 season. Chapman and backcourt mate Ed Davender carried much of the load for a young team that lacked depth. King Rex led Kentucky with 16 points per game- at the time a UK freshman record (min. 20 games). While Kentucky bowed out in the 1st Round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament, Rex’s historic freshman season made for a good distraction and a promising look for Kentucky's future.
For Rex’s sophomore year, he led Kentucky to a 25-5 record, with an upset loss to Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen. Immediately after, Rex entered the 1988 NBA Draft and was selected 8th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. He was the first draft pick in Hornets franchise history. Despite being plagued with injury, Rex had a 12-year career with averages of 14.6 pts/2.5 reb/2.7 ast. At the time of his retirement, Chapman had scratched the NBA’s Top 30 in career 3PT field goals. In 2013, Rex was inducted into the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame.
Rex Chapman didn’t play four years at Kentucky, nor did he see much postseason success. That said, he is still one of the most significant recruits Kentucky has brought in, while having arguably (up to that point) the most impressive freshman season in UK history.
It certainly didn’t hurt that he torched the in-state rival.
Some additional notes from Chapman’s time at Kentucky:
-Made Kentucky’s first-ever three point shot (11/29/1986 vs. Austin Peay).
-Four games of 26 points in the 1986-87 season, the second-most 26+ point games by any UK Freshman (Jamal Murray, 5)
-Second UK freshman to lead his team in points. The first was Bob Brannum in 1943-44.
-With 464 points (in 29 games), Chapman became the highest-scoring freshman in Kentucky Basketball history—this would not be surpassed until John Wall in 2009-10.
-Second Kentucky freshman (post-1974) to earn All-SEC First Team Honors. The first was Sam Bowie.
-Second most career points (1,073) by a two-year player (Bill Spivey, 1,213)
-Ranks 19th on UK’s all-time three point field goals list with 134 career makes (3rd most by a two-year player)
Sources: Kentucky Statistics Main Page, Sports-Reference, Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame, Kentucky.com